independent crowd estimate, anyone?

When some bishops called for a prayer rally last month, the media cited the police report that 5,000 persons attended the assembly. The organizers insisted it was 15,000. Later, it was conceded that only 10,000 were at the Liwasang Bonifacio.

Last June 24, Mayor Binay gleefully announced that 30,000 individuals joined the march from Sto. Domingo church to Welcome Rotonda. The media again reported the police observation that only 5,000 were at the rally. The organizers later corrected that the crowd was about 20,000.

During the Ayala rally last week, the media did not bother mention the police estimate of the crowd and reported that ‘thousands’ joined the rally. The organizers said the crowd was about 30,000.

I want to believe this is not a disappointing validation of the low mathematical skills of Filipinos, though I am in favor of pursuing this matter further. The crowd estimate is used to advance political goals. The police wants to downplay public support for mass actions. On our part, we want to assert that we have the public on our side.

Camera tricks can either make the protest assembly big or small. Pictures could not faithfully capture the whole event. The job of TV/radio reporters and writers becomes more important as they can either cite the crowd estimate of the police or the organizers or they can make their own honest calculation.

Remember EDSA Tres? The crowd was evidently more than half a million in EDSA shrine but the TV reporter agreed with the police that it was only 25,000.

There is a need for an independent crowd estimate, if there is such a thing in this world; or a scientific formula for measuring a crowd.

In the next few days or weeks, the size of mass mobilizations will influence the timing and manner of President Arroyo’s removal from Malacañang. A massive gathering of people in the streets may also determine the actions of political blocs in the country in the post-Gloria Philippines.

And it is indeed infuriating when you devote your energy and attention persuading thousands of people to go to the streets only to learn that news organizations reported an exagerrated downsized crowd estimate of the rally.

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